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Deflections: Learning how to win: Part 2


A minor hockey team playing in a so-called competitive level league doesn’t need to win. No one needs to win. The ego and self-esteem may be bruised for a while. You don’t get the opportunity to brag and it doesn’t go on a resumé. The sun does rise the next morning though and everyone realizes it was indeed just a game.

However, there is nothing inherently wrong with learning what it takes to win and then, having done so, trying to revisit what worked. Early on with my bantams, I realized they had little of those tools. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the willingness to simply compete had to be drawn from them. Even then, some resisted; some managed it from time to time; some couldn’t handle what I suppose they felt was a push to succeed; and some revelled in it but just couldn’t figure out how to do it consistently. There was over-reliance on my leadership and despite my efforts to get some of the older, more respected boys on the team to set a tone, they just didn’t know how.

Essentially, it seemed as though no one in previous years had shown them how to play their best. Winning was never the idea. This was neither a team nor an organization where winning would occur much anyway, which is beside the point. Moreover, the skill level for this group was poor and, I was told, always had been. So I found myself with two avenues to take.

1 - Spend practice time on little else but technical skill building. The danger with this is that, on a competitive level team of new teenagers, the approach might be construed as somewhat demeaning. Wasn’t this the kind of stuff they should have been taught in novice and atom? I risked losing them. Besides, how much appreciable improvement could I expect in a season of about 30 practices? Would the skill-based approach aid their compete level?

2 - Show them how to compete using small area games. Work on giving/receiving checking skills. Focus on self-discipline. Make the skill development more experiential learning than drill-based. But - BUT - to what end? If they’re still not good enough to be competitive in games, how would this help? Then there’s the issue of sacrificing technique at just about the perfect time in their lives when they can learn and apply it?

I chose #2. Winning was never my own objective. Giving them confidence and teaching them how to find the ingredients to win were more important, and practical.

In the end, we lost our last game 4-1. It was a dud of an effort, the only one like that since December. In every other game, they competed, or at least most did. Their reward was close games where they’d been waxed before and success in a couple of tournaments where there’d been none. They even gave themselves a chance for playoff success.

No, this team didn’t win much. But I hope they left the season with at least an inkling of what it takes, even if they can’t often reach it.

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